PR Roundup: Media Mistakes, X’s Downfall, Barbies are Back

This week PR Roundup takes a look at major news outlet reporting mistakes regarding the Israel/Hamas conflict, X (formerly known as Twitter)’s free fall and Barbie’s commercial resurgence.

New York Times Owns Gaza Hospital Mistake 

What happened: This mistake couldn’t come at a worse time.

On Oct. 23 The New York Times published an editorial note on its recent coverage of an explosion at a Gaza hospital. The coverage initially led with claims by the Hamas representatives that an Israeli airstrike caused the blast. The note explains the process of coverage and admitted the news organization “relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified.”

The Times decided to post this explanation after evidence from American and other international officials showed that the attack came from Palestinian fighter positions.

And The Times did not act alone in this coverage. Others included the BBC, CNN, Reuters, Al Jazeera and more according to CNN’s media reporter, Oliver Darcy. The BBC has also posted a statement since the mishap, but other media organizations remain silent.

Communication lessons: With only 32% of Americans saying they trust the mass media “a great deal” or a “fair amount” according to Gallup’s most recent poll, it's not an ideal point in history for news organizations to shy away from their processes and responsibilities. In fact, showcasing more transparency is probably a good decision to move the needle on public trust.

Brett Bruen, President, Global Situation Room and a former U.S. Diplomat says there needs to be “real reflection” in newsrooms about what “constitutes a credible source.” Especially during conflict.

“Terrorist organizations should not be used as sources, period,” Bruen says. “Governments that have a long history of propagandizing and spreading disinformation should not be used as sources. Journalism schools and editors need to revisit, then refine the “both sides” approach to their coverage.”

Years ago, Bruen managed the United States’ response to Russia’s use of information warfare. He found it to be consistently frustrating that Western major media outlets would cite Russia’s fabricated facts.

“News organizations risk not only losing their audience, but advertisers and the credibility that is desperately needed to provide clarity during these crises,” he says.

X Usage Plummets

What happened: Axios highlighted troubling data in its latest report, “X usage plummets in Musk's first year.” Senior media reporter Sara Fischer highlights numbers from digital intelligence companies Sensor Tower, Data.AI and SimilarWeb which tell the story of a social media app in a freefall.

Axios reports:

  • App downloads fell 38% globally over the past year, and 57% in the U.S., according to Sensor Tower estimates. Data.AI shows similar trends.

  • Monthly active users fell 14.8% globally and 17.8% in the U.S. year-over-year per SimilarWeb.

  • User churn increased more than 30% year-over-year as of September 2023, per Sensor Tower.

And of course, when the users flee, so do brands and advertisers. In fact, Musk posted on September 4 that U.S. ad revenue was down 60%, and blamed the The Anti-Defamation League for the loss.

Communication lessons: It’s important to employ a multi-pronged approach when it comes to communication strategy, particularly in social media. You never know when an organization or platform is going to get bought, sold or just drift away (see MySpace, Friendster, Vine, etc.)

It’s important, not only to get messages out to audiences and for customer service, but for emergency situations as well. And sometimes a platform does go down, or an API is stripped, and in that case, you definitely need to be prepared with a backup plan.

John Guilfoil, Principal, John Guilfoil Public Relations, wrote about the importance of owning your media in an age of uncertainty back in April 2023. Guilfoil works with many municipal and emergency organizations who use the platform to connect with the public. However, he advises them to not neglect Plan B: their website.

“We preach “website first” for our clients, meaning that social media, email marketing and earned media are all vitally important but should never be taken for granted,” he says. “First, the virtual disappearance of the American weekly community newspaper at the hands of Gannett called earned media into question for smaller government and public safety agencies. [Other moves] serve as reminders that You. Don’t. Own. Your. Social. Media. [Platform owners] do—or Musk does, to put it more specifically.”

“Some of the biggest pushback I receive in some of the public relations training classes I host—and sales calls I go on with prospective clients—is from police public information officers who are particularly good at Twitter or Facebook. Some of them scoff at updating their agency website (or even having a website “in this day and age”) because of the engagement they get on social media.

I’m here to tell you, it can be gone tomorrow.”

Barbie Sales Surge 14% After Movie Release

What happened: She’s dominated the box office, and now she’s back to dominating toy sales. Barbie, who hasn’t seen such popularity since 1992, when Totally Hair Barbie became the best-selling Barbie doll ever, is seeing children put their video games and phones down to enter her pink-tinted dream world of imagination and fun.

According to The Washington Post, Mattel reported sales of Barbie dolls increasing 14% in the last quarter, acknowledging the direct correlation to the “Barbie” box-office blockbuster.

“Dolls continue to grow with the benefit from the ‘Barbie’ movie,” said Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz during the toy company’s third-quarter earnings call on Oct. 25.

Mattel also reported sales surging 9% in a three-month period ending Sept. 30.

“The movie has broadened Barbie’s fan base, which will be an important contributor for the brand as part of our long-term franchise marketing strategy,” Kreiz added.

Communication lessons: Melissa Conner, Partner and Managing Director at JBC says Barbie transcends the typical rules of marketing and communications that most brands have to work with, resulting in a greater market share.

“Most brands cannot partner with as many as Barbie did in such a short amount of time,” Conner says. “In fact brands are advised to be incredibly conservative in their partnerships and pace them out over time—but Barbie can. It usually works against a brand to align so freely.”

Conner also says she’s surprised sales were only up 14% on the doll because of her refreshed audience reach.

“Barbie has consistently reinvented herself and has found a way to appeal to nearly everyone, which makes the lead up to the movie one of the most successful campaigns likely in marketing history.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal